21:9 Gaming Advantage: Fact or Myth?

Jeff Kaplan recently commented that Blizzard had no plans to increase the field of view in Overwatch beyond the standard 103 FOV. His reason? “We feel like it would be unfair to 16:10 and 16:9 players if 21:9 gave a substantial FOV advantage.” In the time since, some players have fired back that any FOV advantage is negligible. After-all, there’s not many ultrawide gaming monitors in pro-gaming circles. So who’s right?

What is Field of View?

FOV is how much of the game-world you can see at one time. In the image below, you can see a variety of field-of-view settings, ranging from 80-120. The outer-edge of the image is 120 FOV, and the yellow line represents 80 FOV.

field of view gaming

Here it’s pretty clear that more is better. Players with a 110 FOV have multiple blind-spots compared to players with 120 FOV. Players with a much smaller FOV, like those playing at 80, are virtually blind to anything that they’re not looking directly at. Because ultrawide monitors grant an extended field of view, that’a a pretty clear advantage for ultrawide displays. 

Human Peripheral Vision Sucks

It’s been argued that human peripheral vision isn’t very good, and therefore the extra inches of screen on our periphery couldn’t possibly be that valuable, right?

This is half-correct. It’s true that human peripheral vision isn’t very good.  It helps you to establish a sense of shape and motion, but little more than that. That’s because our peripheral vision is made up of mostly rod cells rather than cone cells. The result is that our color perception starts to noticeably fail around 30 degrees from the center of your vision. Meanwhile, your dark vision peaks as shallow as 18 degrees from center. Basically, you can only see things very well if you’re looking directly at them.

field of view monitors

But that’s mostly irrelevant information! After-all the advantages of having a wider field-of-view with a 21:9 aspect ratio is almost entirely about using your (fully-functional) motion-detection capabilities to spot enemies creeping up on the edges of your vision.

For example, while playing Rust, it doesn’t matter that your eyes won’t be able to use their peripheral vision to clearly read text. All that matters is you saw that cave-man coming to bash your head in with a rock before he got to you, or you spotted that target faintly moving against the background from 200 yards away.

In Some Games, 21:9 Won’t Matter

In some circumstances, a little extra peripheral vision won’t be advantageous. CS:GO has strong 21:9 support, and virtually no pro-level CS:GO player uses an superwide gaming monitor. That may partially be because CS:GO’s interface is still somewhat uncomfortable on 21:9, but it’s pretty clear that at least in CS:GO, ultrawides aren’t the obvious pick.

field of view overwatch
In stretching Overwatch to fit 21:9, a small amount of horizontal view is lost. This is an example of 21:9 done badly, and ultrawide-users are slightly penalized in Overwatch for this.

Other Times, 21:9 Matters Lots

On the other hand, there are times when that peripheral vision from a larger FOV can be incredibly advantageous. In Rainbow Siege 6, increasing your FOV is all-but-mandatory to stay competitive. For survival games like Ark or Rust, having a wider view of your environment can help prevent someone from sneaking up on you, which gives you a pretty clear advantage by letting you see more of the battlefield.

Sometimes your peripheral sense of motion is enough to make a difference. In an RTS title, it’s enough just to see a vague block of color entering your territory, especially if that territory is invisible to all but those using superwide monitors. And even for those games where 21:9 isn’t properly supported, there are some benefits of switching to a curved display.

Better Hardware Means Better Performance

This shouldn’t surprise anyone — having better hardware means better performance. Whether you’re talking about a higher refresh rate or a greater field of view, having an excellent gaming monitor gives you an advantage. So yes — Kaplan is correct to be wary of the power of ultrawide monitors, but incorrect to try and handicap those players because hardware advantages have always existed in many shapes and forms. 

In a small minority of games where 21:9 doesn’t give you an advantage, there’s either no downside to using 21:9 (i.e. Street Fighter), or there’ s a handicap in place to allow 16:9 players to compete (i.e. Overwatch). And with those rare handicap titles, you can just switch to playing 16:9 with black bars! That makes ultrawide monitors a pretty clear choice for gamers who want every advantage they can get.